Back in the early days of my craft beer journey, I discovered a few breweries that were making beer specifically for the Holiday Season. And since that moment, I’ve made a point of drinking almost nothing but Holiday inspired beers during this time of the year. Now here we are at December 4th, Hanukkah is only six days away and Christmas will be here in just three weeks! This is the time to go exploring and find some Holiday seasonal craft beer!
Because I love this time of year so much, I make sure each year that I have certain Christmas Ales ready to enjoy the day after Thanksgiving. There are a lot of really good Holiday beers, but the one that started it all for me was Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale. That was 1986 and I still have a 12-pack box that is now used for packing Christmas decorations, but I see it each year when we decorate our home for Christmas. Anchor Christmas Ale was always special for me, until Anchor ruined the beer with 2018’s release.
Part of the beer’s concept was that every year it was different—and it was in very subtle ways. Each year, I knew I could look forward to a beer that was rich and interesting and always had some sort of spice quality. But in 2018, any similarity to the past was thrown away and, I’m sure with good intention, an entirely new recipe was created. The 2018 beer lost all of the cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg qualities in previous years and was brewed to bring out a piney quality. Normally, I love piney aromas and flavors in beer, but this recipe was off… and off-putting. Then along came the 2019 version, and this one was so bad that after drinking one bottle of a six back, I gave the remaining five to my three sons.
So this year, I decided to pass on the beer altogether. I bought cases of Troeg’s Mad Elf Ale, Southern Tier’s 2XMAS, and Harpoon’s Winter Warmer—all exceptional Christmas Ales and I’ve already been enjoying these. But then this week, a friend asked me whether I had bought Anchor Christmas Ale this year and I told him I had not and explained why. But then I logged into Beer Advocate to read reviews from fellow beer enthusiasts and saw a series of good reviews, including one where the writer clearly felt the same way I did about the 2019 version, except he went to a greater extreme: he dumped 5-and-a-half bottles of his six pack down the drain. But he was brave enough to try the 2020 version and gave it a very positive review. So last night, I picked up a six pack of the 46th version of Anchor Christmas Ale and drank two bottles last night. Gone are all of the spices, but what is back is a rich, full bodied brown ale. The 2020 Anchor Christmas Ale tastes much like a porter and has aroma and tasting notes of coffee and dark chocolate. So although it’s not a spiced ale, it is a very good, very drinkable, beer. To Anchor Brewing’s credit, they realized last year was bad and quickly got the beer back on track!
So to Anchor Brewing: thanks for fixing the recipe for your Christmas Ale! I’m going to have a couple more tonight!
The Craft Beer Guy